Mari the Last Pagans in Europe

In the center of Russia, on the left bank of the Volga between Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, the Mari ( a Volga Finnic ethnic group ) keep their culture and religion based on the belief in the power of nature. Early morning 100 kilometers east of Yoshkar-Ola the sun had not yet risen above the wooden huts of the village of Mari-Turek. Out of the car the men in heavy boots and women dressed in warm coats take out boxes, bags and large bags flutter from which curiously peek brown geese. At the entrance to the woods there is an arch built from the trunks of fir and white and blue cloth. Before it people with bags stop for a moment and bow.


Because in the forest, they say, women can not go bare-headed as it is a sacred grove. In the morning twilight autumn in the east of the Republic of Mari El in the Volga, the last pagans of Europe are going to perform the ceremony of prayer and sacrifice.

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Everyone who came here – Mari, representatives of Finno-Ugric people, whose number hardly exceeds 700 000 people. About half of them live in the country, which is called by the name of the people: Mari El. Maris people have its own language – soft and melodic, there are the songs and their customs. But most importantly: they have their own, pagan religion.

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Mari believe in the gods of nature and the fact that all things have a soul. They do not worship the gods in the churches rather they worship them in the forests, bringing them food and animal sacrifice. In Soviet times, it was forbidden to practice any religion including paganism so they had to secretly prayed. But with the end of the 1980s, Mari culture was re-born again.

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More than half of today plead Mari pagans and regularly participate in the sacrifices. Throughout the Mari-El Republic they have several hundred sacred groves, some of them are protected by the Russian state.

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Because there where laws were they respected Mari religion and their sacred forests oases of untouched nature. In the areas of the sacred groves no one can cut down trees, smoke, swear or tell a lie; it is impossible to use the land to build a power line, and even pick berries and mushrooms. In the grove near the village of Mari-Turek between spruces and birches offers a large clearing.

Special education is not there, the older priests pass on their knowledge of the world of the gods and of the traditions to the young members of their society. Master Alexander Tanygina allegedly possessed foresight and could have predicted the future that is waiting for Mari people and all mankind.


Does he have a very similar gift? “I can do what I can,” – says mysteriously High Priest. The priests are busy for hours from their campfires, add some salt in the porridge pots and listen to stories about the needs of the community. One woman worried about her son, who serves in the army.


Today, she brought a goose as a sacrifice – to his son in the army all was well. Another man asks help because of a failed surgery. All these conversations are confidential under the cover of trees, pillars of smoke. In the meantime, geese, sheep and bull are stabbed and sacrificed. Women hung carcasses of birds on a wooden rack and now, have fun chatting while plucking them.

On the sacrificial stands with fir branches woman put mountains thick ruddy pancakes, homemade kvass and “Thoiry” – a kind of cheesecakes cottage cheese, eggs, milk and butter. They proudly display their festive dress with colorful embroidery and silver ornaments on the chest.


Mari prayer lasts longer than any Christian church service. From early morning to afternoon in a cold, damp woods when they prepare sacrificial meal.


The priest, dressed in white, like a cloak apparel, Mari sings the song “Love us, God, and help us …” The second fire starts to pray, and the High Priest Alexander Tanygin. For that to argue the work and that the trip was successful, and that there were no accidents on the roads, and that children and nature are healthy, for that village was bread and that politicians all was well, and that they help the people of Mari .


Priest explained to reporter that “People need religion, but they do not understand it,” – he says, and tells his favorite story.


When a long time there was no rain and drought nearly ruined crops, villagers Mari-Turek got together and organized a street festival, cooked cereals, baked cakes and covered the table with offerings in favor of their gods. Of course, shortly thereafter poured rain on the earth. Make you think about it right?

What do you think?

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